Military Order of the Purple Heart

Texas Capital Chapter 1919 Austin, Texas

 

JOHN E. PRICE

 


 

 

8th Air Force

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379th Bomb Group
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527th Bomb Squadron
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JOHN E. PRICE

Patriot, Chapter 1919

 (ARMY AIR FORCES, WWII, Europe) Article February 2004

 

John E. Price was born in 1923.  He graduated from high school in Oklahoma City and went to Dallas, where he worked for American Optical.  He enrolled at Texas A&M and it wasn't until after receiving his draft notice that he finally got his parent's permission to enlist in the Air Corps.  He went into the Army Air Corps, had basic training at Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls, then was sent to the cadre of a college training detachment at Peabody Institute in Nashville, Tennessee.  Following that, he took preflight training at Selman Field in Monroe, Louisiana, and from there went to Pan American Airways Navigation School at the University of Miami in Coral Gables.  One time when John was hitchhiking back to Coral Gables, he was picked up by a party that included a Miss Mable Burnett, who was visiting from Knoxville, Tennessee.  On the ride back to his base, John and Mable struck up a conversation that later developed into a serious acquaintance.  John graduated at Coral Gables, was commissioned Second Lieutenant, and received his navigators wings.  At Avon Park, Florida, he received crew training, and with other aircrew members were formed into individual B-17 bomber crews.  John’s crew went to Hunter Field in Savannah, Georgia, took delivery of a new B-17 Bomber, and flew it to England.

 

John and his crew were assigned to the 527th Squadron, 379th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force based at  Kimbolton, England. After ten missions, the bombardier,  Lieutenant George McLellan, was reassigned; and although navigators received only minimal bombardier training, John Price became his crew’s  “togglier,”  the nickname for navigators who replaced bombardiers.

 

The famous band director, Glen Miller, with his Army Air Corps Band was stationed at nearby Bedford.  John says,  “One time we had a water supply problem at Kimbolton and I went over to the Red Cross Officers Club in Bedford to shower.  The club shower room had a dozen shower heads but I had it all to myself  until Glen Miller came in to shower also. He was a Major and I was but a lowly 2nd Lieutenant, too shy to say a word. We showered in silence and I missed my only chance to speak with him.  Later that same afternoon, Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mum who died in 2003) visited us. We all lined up, the Ladies in Waiting briefed us on how to behave, then the Queen came down the line and each one of us had our turn being introduced to her.  She was such a gracious lady.”

 

On some missions, the plane got shot up so badly we had to drop out and return to Kimbolton on our own, so it was absolutely necessary for me to know exactly where we were at all times in order to plot a course back home.  I felt like I earned my keep.  On Sep 19, 1944, our primary target was weathered in and we headed to a secondary target in the Ruhr Valley.  A FLAK burst hit a fuel line on our plane, Mary Jo, and too much fuel was lost to get back home. We tried to head for recently liberated Paris, but with a dwindling fuel level, we didn’t even make it out of Germany.  We almost reached friendly territory before going down, crash landing in a potato patch near where the German, Belgium and Luxembourg borders meet.  But, as it turned out, we were on the wrong side of the lines.

 

I don’t remember the crash landing.  When I regained consciousness my right arm and leg were broken, I had a double shot of morphine in me, and there was the sound of small arms fire.  German troops were all around, they got out of the way of the plane when it crashed, and they just  picked us up when the dust settled.  In a German hospital about 5 miles from the town of Remagen, my right knee, crushed not broken, developed gangrene.  Just days short of my 21st birthday the leg had to be amputated above the knee. As Christmas approached, the chairman of the local branch of the Nazi party visited the hospital, passing out gifts, and explained that in their area the Nazis were more like our American Legion.  He said since I was a POW he couldn’t give me anything, but, then he winked at me and gave the SS officer in the bed next to mine two sets of everything.  I brought my set of items back as souvenirs, especially the small shaving mirror.

 

I developed thrombosis in the other leg and got  pneumonia.  I was really in a bad way.  The Germans didn’t have penicillin, so they sprinkled sulfa powder on my leg wound and gave me sulfa tablets for the pneumonia.  My health deteriorated to where one time I didn’t think I would live through the night.

 

It had become obvious that the fighting was getting closer and we were evacuated to the east,  to Bad Driburg. When they gave me my admittance exam at the hospital there, I weighed only 98 pounds. For seven months I would be in hospitals, never made it to a Stalag, never saw a Red Cross worker, and my presence was never reported.  I just fell through the cracks, officially “missing in action” the entire time.   That was not entirely bad, missing out on the POW camp experiences; I even learned a good bit of conversational German. After a few months at Bad Driburg, I was starting to get around on crutches and even began to have a bit of fun with people who didn’t realize I knew some of their language.  The nurses used to come into my room talking about their boyfriends, what they did, and where they did it.  I let them do so for quite some time, then one day suddenly, I broke into their conversation with a burst of my best Deutsch sprechen.  They shrieked and ran out screaming.  They came back, but never shared intimate gossip in my presence again.

 

By this time, I was getting pretty sick of the war and had fervently prayed for it to soon be over, and brashly asked for a sign by Easter. On Easter afternoon, an artillery barrage hit the town, for no apparent reason. I now realize it’s not proper to give God deadlines. One afternoon a few days later, we could hear the sound of gunfire from off in the west. We were happy because that meant it was the Americans who were approaching (not the Russians in the east).”

 

The next morning, John Price was taken out by U.S. troops and evacuated to a large tent hospital in the Ruhr Valley.  From there he was flown back to England, moved by train to Glasgow, Scotland; and on April 12, 1945 flown out to New York, with stops along the way in Iceland and Newfoundland. After an overnight at an airbase on Long Island, he was flown to Dallas and then taken to McCloskey Hospital in Temple, Texas.  On Oct 12, 1945, before being discharged as a medical retiree from McCloskey, John Price and Mable Burnett were married.

 

They went to Chicago where John entered the Northern Illinois College of Optometry.  Their twin daughters were born in Chicago and in 1949, John became a member of the college’s 100th graduating class.  He then practiced Optometry, first in Amarillo, where their youngest daughter was born, then to Paris (Texas) for another 10 years, before finally moving to Fort Worth in 1963.  A few years after moving to Ft. Worth, John and a partner purchased a Texas State Optical office. He practiced optometry there until selling the practice in 1988. But he didn't fully retire because he was always being asked to fill in for other doctors. A few years after really retiring in 2003, John and Mable Price moved to Georgetown, Texas to be closer to their daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

 


 

John E. Price and the original B-17 crew in England, 1944.

 

Left to right. back row: Staff Sergeants John Eckenrode, OH, Radio Operator and Gunner; George Lalich, NY, Tail Gunner; Wm. M. Hardin, AL, Waist Gunner; Larry L. Buckman, TX, Waist Gunner; Wm. D. Combs, OH, Ball Turret Gunner; Roy Stanley, TX, Engineer and Top Turret Gunner.

Front row: 2nd Lieutenants George A. McClellan, NJ, Bombardier; John E. Price, TX, Navigator; Ralph J. Riggio, WI, Co-pilot; Charles E. Walker, FL, Pilot.

 

 

 

Ground Crew of B17 Mary Jo
This is the B17 John Price was In When Shot Down

 

   

Telegrams Informing Family of John Price Missing and Then POW Status
 
 
 

KIMBOLTON AIRFIELD

B-17 Flying Fortress

Also Visit the World War II Memorial Site

Honoree John E. Price


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